The Cabin in the Woods

cabininthewoodsI’ll try and keep this spoiler-free, because I think it goes without saying that spoilers are the film buff’s bane, but I will need to at least hint at a few key aspects of the story in order to properly criticize it in the manner I intend to. Which is to say, I didn’t really enjoy the film all that much on an artistic or intellectual level. Critical reception and social-media opinion had set my expectations high, and in the beginning of the film I felt that the script was poised to deliver . . . but things fell apart pretty quickly.

I believe that a good horror film ought to bring the monsters of our innermost darkness to life both on the screen and in our hearts; but all The Cabin in the Woods seems to do is yank down the zipper on the monster’s back, exposing the pale, hairy ass underneath.

It doesn’t show much love for the genre. And that’s a big strike against it, in my book.

Maybe I’m too jaded, or even a liar masking his own jealousy or insecurities as a creative individual, but I feel like a lot of these high-concept, chain-o’-nonsense-surprises films feel a little soulless. They lack the grit and believability that are the requisite of true, visceral terror — something that the horror genre, particularly in film, is especially lacking these days.

It’s not that Cabin doesn’t have its smart or entertaining moments. There is a certain moderate tension that persists throughout the film, more or less holding the audience’s attention, but it can’t ever make up its mind whether it is a high-brow comedy or a horror film. It succeeds only, I’m afraid, as a comedy. That’s what I find most disappointing.

And so much of the plot relies on, well, me not revealing the big spoilers that would utterly ruin the entire thing for you. It’s all one massive curtain . . . which, by the way, you can see straight through the minute the film starts.

Hell, the first time you see the trailer, if you’ve a keen eye and a rudimentary understanding of the genre and the metafictional obsession that has grown to dominate the imaginations of horror cinema’s once-great masters. Like that bloody but disgraceful mess Scream 4, The Cabin in the Woods suffers from the reality that the well-meaning audience member is constantly thumped over the head with reminders that she is in fact seated in a movie theater, sipping a six-dollar Coke and comfortably distanced from even the slightest whiff of danger or alarm. Munchin’ on that Buncha Crunch.

I dunno. Maybe this is a phase, in which I’m not allowed to enjoy contemporary horror films with quite the same kind of —

Wait, no. Scratch that. I watched Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien last Thursday night, and damn, that’s a movie, folks. Thirty-three years ago, and the H. R. Giger creature is scarier than anything Hollywood has managed to dream up since. Honest.

Like I said to my little brother on the way outta the theater, what audiences know — have known for decades — hasn’t quite reached filmmakers’ ears: It ain’t what you show that’s scary; it’s what you don’t show. It’s what the audience thinks it saw, what it imagined.

Hence the phenomenal effectiveness, and deserved success, of a film like Alien.

So please, enough with the gimmicks. To hell with the no-holds-barred-anything-goes expansion of scope, realism, and so-called “artistic freedom.” Set some boundaries. As the film’s stoner-cum-hero says, you gotta draw a line in the sand somewhere. Keep a touch of harsh reality, just a dash of subtlety. Rules and mystery, silence and things left unsaid, leaving that curtain down . . . these things will keep the illusion alive.

Richard Jenkins’ character? Well, he just won’t. Nor will the colossal meta-narrative technique of “The Director” and holograms and wagers with the boogeymen of other nations. And don’t even get me started on the imagery in the opening credits and constant bludgeoning of the audience with obvious one-liners and allusions that give away the big “surprise ending” as early on as the opening scene, for chrissakes.

Sorry to rant, but I’m so tired of being disappointed by a genre that is so dear to my heart, that is so chock full of potential. I wish we could put the cliches and failed attempts at cleverness to rest in favor of originality, atmosphere, and believable, human characters. Trust me: Romero and Lovecraft won’t mind if we leave the zombies and elder gods behind in favor of artistic invention. They’ll thank us for not killing the genre.

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Alex Kane is an author, blogger, and critic whose work has appeared in Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction, Digital Science Fiction, and Foundation, among other places. He lives in the small college town of Monmouth, Illinois, where he earned a B.A. in English, and was recently named a finalist in the international Writers of the Future contest. Visit him online at alexkanefiction.com.

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